Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Top 5 Favorite Noirs

This is my first montagy sort of sketch. I think it came out rather well, especially Robert Ryan.
I love noir. It's my favorite genre ever. For those of you who don't know what it is, Noir is a genre of movies from the early 1940's to the late 1950's that were prevalently dark, gritty, and cynical.  The shadows were big, the good guys weren't always good, the bad guys weren't always bad and you never got a happy ending. Everything just had this moral grey era.

It was a genre that popped up right after WWII in a time when people didn't trust the world they lived in anymore. Noir created the hard-boiled detective, the femme fatale, the crook with a heart of gold, and many more staples you see in movies, games and TV today.  And even though the genre is sometimes associated with that played-out detective formula, it was also a time when film makers were experimenting with story and technique.

So here are my top 5 all-time favorite Noir movies, and a great place to start if you're looking to get into the genre after the jump!

5) Kiss Me Deadly
This is a crime thriller about a hardened detective after a great whatsit with a sci-fi/fantasy twist.  Mike Hammer isn't just your regular ol' tough detective, he's a total jerk. Sometimes you even wonder why you should be rooting for him.  He's so batman, the filmmakers don't even show what he does to criminals on screen(You knew batman was an adjective, right?)!  Watching this has an erie feel to it, almost haunting, and it's nihlistic ending is classic. But the best thing about this movie is its completly psycotic opening credits.  These would unhinge David Lynch. A light jazzy tune with a hysterical woman crying while the credits ROLL DOWN BACKWARDS.

4) Detour
Detour is a very tight character film with one of the best noir messages: No matter what you do, fate will do what it wants with you. Fate will fuck you up and make you its bitch and there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it.  It's all narrated wonderfully by Tom Neal who plays his role as a desperate traveler perfectly(look into those eyes!).  Al Roberts is hitch-hiking to LA, but fate throws one problem at him after another. Desperate to get out of its clutches, he just cements himself deeper and deeper into his fate until he's broken.

3) Murder, My Sweet
For those of you in the noir know-how, you might consider this a blasphemous choice as this has Dick Powell in the role of Philip Marlow instead of the classic Humphrey Bogart(don't worry, he comes up later).  And though I love me some Bogart, Powell plays Marlow exceedingly well, and this particular outing is one of Marlowe's tightest stories and the best example of the detective sub-genre.  It includes a great cast of characters including fast talking detectives, Femme Fatales, lug-headed thugs, and even an evil doctor! And it's got some of the best dialogue from the pen tip of Raymond Chandler.  This is how I want people to speak all the time ever.

2) The Set-Up
Robert Ryan is one of my favorite noir actors. I want him in every noir ever; he's just this big tough guy. In this, he's a down on his luck boxer with the numbers stacked against him. He needs to win his next fight to get back on top, but his trainer has secretly made a deal with a crime boss for him to take a dive. He loses, he loses. If he wins, he loses! What I really love about this movie though is it's complete lack of voice over or soundtrack and its great sweeping camera shots.  This is a very experimental film, and you cinematography nerds should love it. The opening scene is just one 5 minute long take going from character to character! Tarantino would be jealous. This somehow breaks all the noir rules while still being one of the best noir examples.

1) Casablanca
For those of you who say Casablanca isn't a noir SHUT THE HELL UP YES IT IS.  First off, it has Humphrey Bogart in one of his most legendary roles, saying some of his greatest dialogue.  Second, it has a slew of famous character actors, including Peter Lorre, in some great character roles. It has some of the most remembered lines in history.  Every character is a shade of grey, even the main character Rick you're never sure whose side he's on until the very end, and it has the most famous ambiguously good ending of any noir movie. Sure he saved the day, but he didn't get the girl, and now he's likly on the run from nazis in a war torn country.  I give you, Casablanca:

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